Abdurakhim Khodzhibaev (Abdurahim Hojiboyev) (1900-1938), the first Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars of Tajikistan

On August 24, 1932, her first day in Moscow, Lotte Jacobi wrote in her Daybook that she “[m]et with Abdurakhim Khodzhibaev, Chairman of the People’s Commissary of the Republic of Tajikistan, and his wife Mirjam*” (Daybook). It is noteworthy that after Khodzhibaev met Jacobi in Moscow, he invited her to Stalinabad, the capital of Tajikistan, as his guest. Was this leading local official, who had only been in power for two years, hoping he could promote progress under the First Five-Year Plan in Tajikistan through the publication of her photographs in Soviet or European publications, or both? It is astonishing that Jacobi could make such an important connection on the first day of her trip.

Abdurakhim Khodzhibaev’s background demonstrates how complicated the rise to power, and hanging on to power, could be in Soviet Central Asia in the 1930s. He was born in 1900 in Khodjent, one of the oldest cities in Central Asia and today the second largest city in Tajikistan. At the time of Khodzhibaev’s birth, however, Khodjent was part of Turkestan, a colony of Imperial Russia. He attended a Russo-native school as a child, and in 1918 moved to Tashkent, at the time also part of Turkestan, now in modern-day Uzbekistan. He enrolled in the Turkestan People’s University, where he studied agronomy (Khalid 301). During his years in school, Khodzhibaev was sent to Transcaspia, the region of Central Asia east of the Caspian Sea, to help establish local soviets, or regional councils, of the USSR. It was during his time in school, assisting with the founding of these soviets, that he caught the eye of the Soviet authorities. With his fluency in Russian and background in agronomy, a key discipline for the implementation of the First Five-Year Plan, Khodzhibaev was a welcome addition to the agriculture department of the Khujand uezd, or administrative office (301).

When the Tajik autonomous oblast, an administrative region in the USSR, within Uzbekistan was proposed in 1924, Khodzhibaev was chosen to serve on the committee tasked with creating this oblast (Khalid 300). It is ironic that although he had been born in an area rich with Tajik culture, it is very likely that Khodzhibaev identified as Uzbek. In fact, the entire committee was made up of Uzbek nationals, with tenuous ties to Tajik culture at best (301). In this regard, Tajiks had little agency in the decisions being made. As a member of the Council of People’s Commissars, the executive branch of the USSR, Khodzhibaev was a central figure in the Soviets’ plan to modernize Tajikistan. In 1929, when it became an independent republic, Khodzhibaev was then appointed the first Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Tajikistan, a role similar to that of a prime minister (Bashir 89).

By 1933, Tajikistan had made strides toward modernization, establishing nascent oil, power, and industrial sectors, but the central Soviet government saw its progress in implementing the First Five-Year Plan as lacking. As a result, Khodzhibaev and a member of the Central Executive Committee, Nusratullo Maksum, were purged from Tajikistani leadership. Botakoz Kassymbekova has described the process: "Staged as an internal national affair without Moscow’s intervention, participants confronted Maksum and Khodzhibaev as the main source of Tajikistan’s failures to fulfill the First Five-Year Plan” (Kassymbekova 111, 112) The show trial, along with numerous observations and reports by the secret police, sealed Khodzhibaev’s fate.

On November 28 and December 1, 1933, Khodzhibaev and Maksum met with Stalin in Moscow. Khodzhibaev was not imprisoned but rather was transferred to a different post, ultimately ending up in Moscow (Kassymbekova 123). Though he had been faced with the impossible task of the Sovietization of a Muslim culture, he took the blame for the failures of the First Five-Year Plan in Tajikistan alongside Maksum. After 1933, Khodzhibaev’s trail went quiet. Adeeb Khalid discusses Stalin’s infamous 1937-1938 purges from the perspective of the Uzbek intelligentsia that were arrested by the NKVD, the interior ministry of the USSR (Khalid 385). It is safe to assume that Khodzhibaev met a similar fate, as he died in 1938 during Stalin’s Great Purge. A Tajik who identified as an Uzbek, Khodzhibaev was ultimately killed as a member of the intelligentsia after giving years of his life to the cause.

*According to Khodzhibaev’s daughter Baroat Khodzhibaeva, her mother’s name was Bikhodzhal, not Mirjam (Gough 96).

Contributor: Charles True

Works Cited:

Bashiri, Iraj. “The Sovietization of Tajikistan.” The History of the Civil War in Tajikistan, Academic Studies Press, 2020, pp. 88–138, JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctv1zjg7rv.5. Accessed 13 Nov. 2022.

Gough, Maria. "Portrait Under Construction: Lotte Jacobi in Soviet Russia and Central Asia." October 173, Summer 2020, pp. 65-117.

Hirsch, Francine. “Toward an Empire of Nations: Border-Making and the Formation of Soviet National Identities.” The Russian Review, vol. 59, no. 2, 2000, pp. 201–26, JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/2679753. Accessed 13 Nov. 2022.

Kassymbekova, Botakoz. Despite Cultures: Early Soviet Rule in Tajikistan. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2016.

Khalid, Adeeb. Making Uzbekistan: Nation, Empire, and Revolution in the Early USSR, 1st ed. Cornell University Press, 2016.

Teichmann, Christian. “Wildscapes in Ballyhooland: Shock Construction, Soviet Colonization, and Stalinist Governance.” Cahiers Du Monde Russe, vol. 57, no. 1, 2016, pp. 221–46, JSTOR, https://www.jstor.org/stable/26369067. Accessed 13 Nov. 2022.